“Keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing!”
Pt. 1 of the series: “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?”
May 5, 2019
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
My last Sunday as full time pastor of Risen Christ will be June 9. I decided that I would preach a series around what I want to say to my congregation, what things I would like to leave this congregation with, what things I think are most important, what things I have talked about for my 24 years here. The title of the series is; “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?” Some people might be wondering why I am retiring. Here is the answer;
- Why retirement?
One of the reasons I am retiring is the number 2,130. You see, there was this baseball player—you knew it would all revolve around baseball, didn’t you, baseball or ice cream—there was this baseball player who played 2,130 consecutive games, 2,130 games without missing a single one. They called him, The Iron Man. His name is Cal Ripkin who played shortstop for—can you guess it?--the Baltimore Orioles. You didn’t expect me to talk about the Yankees, did you? Cal, of in churchy circles it is Saint Cal, played game after game. Then, after 21 years as a professional baseball player, he hung up his spikes. He retired. In the years preceding his retirement, people would say things like, “Cal isn’t swinging the bat as he once did.” If a ball got through to the outfield, the announcer would say, “Five years ago, Cal would have gotten to that ball.” If an opposing player beat out an infield hit, they would say, “It used to be that Cal would have the arm strength to throw that guy out. Not anymore.” In an interview with Cal Ripkin, he even said that he noticed that around the age of 30, his body wasn’t reacting as quickly as before. He was slowing down.
You see, not at the age of 30, but at the age of 66, I can feel it in my bones that I am slowing down. I have been for a few years now. I am not swinging the pastoral bat like I once did. I am not recovering as quickly. My pace has slowed and—here is the important part--Risen Christ needs a pastor with full energy to take it to the next level. Oh, I still have some things to say to you, my dear friends, and I still know how to lead a church but I cannot do it with the fervor I had even 10 years ago. Risen Christ deserves better. Here’s what I wrote in a letter I read to you in the fall;
I love Risen Christ. God has blessed me so richly in giving me this church. I love the people of this church, its mission and ministry, the incredible staff, and the committed volunteers. Yet, Risen Christ needs someone as a leader who has increased passion and energy for ministry and can lead this church to even greater things in the future. It also needs someone who is younger.
So, I cannot and will not hold Risen Christ back. You need to call a younger pastor but you certainly are not going to call a better looking one, that is if you can look beyond my gray hair and wrinkles. I also want to spend more time with my beautiful wife and no, you won’t find a more beautiful pastor’s wife either. And, I want to spend more time with my son and daughter-in-law and, did you know that I have 2 grandchildren? And, I want to find other ways to be in service to our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the next phase of my life.
- What can you expect
Now, I want to take just a few minutes to talk about what you can expect in the very near future. You might remember that I will be taking the summer off. I will be off from June 10 through early September. I will preach again on Sept. 8. I will return and work about 3 weeks each month from September until June of 2020, unless our congregation calls another pastor before then, in which I will exit. Once he comes, I will be scarce for a year or so because the new man needs to be seen as the pastor of Risen Christ and I cannot be in the way of that. During those times I am off, the summer and then 1 week each month starting in September, basically, I will not be available for anything at the church. We will be gone a number of weeks in the summer and will not be available to preach, teach, do hospital calls or any pastoral acts including baptisms and funerals.
However, Risen Christ will be in very capable hands. First, God has raised up Michelle DeRue as just the right person to be our president during this transition. Not only is Michelle a very capable leader but she has a keen sense for understanding the feelings of our people. That will be very important as we move through this thing. In addition, Michelle is leading a tremendous group of people who make up the church council. I am so excited about how God has seated just the right people on the council. God actually knows what He is doing. And, then there is the Call Committee under Dawn Cheng’s leadership. Administratively, Risen Christ is in good hands.
Also, Risen Christ is in good hands pastorally. You know that one of my pet phrases is; “The Holy Spirit’s last name is coincidence.” So, was it coincidental that a few years ago, Al Boezi came to me saying that he wanted a larger role in the life of the church. He entered a program to be trained as a Licensed Lay Deacon and completed that training. Also, with my encouragement, he has just completed a course called Clinical Pastoral Education which was centered at Strong Hospital and trained him to care for people in various crisis situations. So, in God’s timing, Al was raised up and trained to fill a role here at Risen Christ that will be invaluable. Most congregations don’t have that. In most congregations, the retiring pastor just leaves and the congregation kind of has to fend for itself. God has provided Risen Christ with Al and then I will be back on board in the fall to maintain the congregation in the transition. In my absence, Al has been authorized by the council to preach, teach, and administer the sacrament of Holy Communion. He will be there for you if you need him and will be working with the Lay Ministers to be sure the concerns of the congregation are taken care of starting June 10. If you have a non-emergency concern, contact the church office. In cases of emergencies, you can call the office or call Al directly. His number will be on the answering machine starting on June 10. So, that is what you can expect in the next little bit.
Back to the series I am preaching. “What IS a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?” What are those things I think are really important, things I’ve been talking about for the 24 years I have been your pastor. I want to address these things now rather than wait until later for 2 reasons; first, as our congregation gets started on the calling process, I want to lay out some things that I think are non-negotiables for the health of this congregation. Second, I want to talk about this things now even though I will be around for another year because I want to button up my time as pastor so as not to interfere when the new pastor comes.
So, today, I want to talk about what is the main thing for the church. I want to talk about “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Let me be quite specific here. Keeping the main thing the main thing means that this congregation needs to keep the mission of the church smack dab in the forefront of all that it does. Here is the main thing, in Jesus’ words;
- What is the Main Thing?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
It is critical that Risen Christ keep the main thing of making disciples as the main thing. Let me answer why that is important in 3 ways.
- Why keeping the main thing, the main thing is important
- Church membership is declining
Bob Keys gave me an article that appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle on April 20. It said that a recent Gallup poll found that church membership has plunged 20 percentage points over the past 20 years. Church membership was at 70% in 1999 but has fallen since. Those with no church affiliation have jumped from 8% to 19%. An interesting sidebar was that church membership declined more among Democrats that Republicans. Church membership for Democrats dropped from 71% to 48% while Republicans dropped from 77% to 69%. That says something but I’m not sure what that is. That church membership is declining is a critical reason to keep the main thing, the main thing. Here is a second reason:
- We don’t live in Kansas any longer
we live in a different time with far reaching implications for the church. We used to live in a Christendom era that was characterized as giving us blue laws, the Ten Commandments in school, “under God” in the pledge, and exhortations to Bible reading in major national newspapers. In a copy of the Los Angeles Times from 1963, people were exhorted to read their Bibles. Can you imagine the Los Angeles times having that in it today? as Tod Bolsinger wrote: “(We live in a world) where cities are now considering using eminent domain laws to replace churches with big box stores, when Sundays are more about soccer and Starbucks than about the Sabbath, when Christian student groups are being de-recognized on university campuses, when the fastest growing religion among young adults is the nones, that is none when asked of their religious affiliation, when a funeral in a California beach town is more likely to be an Hawaiian style ‘paddle out’ than a gathering in a sanctuary.” Our country is deteriorating morally, ethically and spiritually and the church needs to rise up and be heard. That is a 2nd critical reason the church needs to keep the main thing, the main thing. I’ve got one more way to get at the situation;
- People are dying without Jesus Christ
People are dying without a relationship with this God of love. Listen to our world and they don’t care. They are too busy and too tired and too liberal and too enlightened to believe that their eternal destiny is at risk. They are too everything to even consider Jesus’ claim when He said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
People are dying without Jesus Christ. People you know, if the stats are correct, 50% of the people around this church are dying without Jesus Christ. We just celebrated the greatest game changer--Jesus’ death and resurrection, that “all who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life,” yet, members of the church are reluctant to do anything about it. If you find a good restaurant, you can’t wait to tell others about it. If you lick a good flavor of ice cream on an ice cream cone, you can’t wait to tell someone about it. If you come up with some kind of crafty gadget, you can’t wait to put it on Pinterest. This is far more than all of that. This is about eternity. It is about salvation. This is about being intentional about letting your friends and neighbors experience the greatest love, this unconditional love, that anyone can ever have. This is God using Risen Christ as a vehicle to deliver God’s love in Jesus. So, I say this to my congregation: Keep the main thing, the main thing. Let’s go about
- Being clear about the main thing
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” Matthew 28:19-20.
“Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Literally this is;
“As you are going, make disciples…”
As you are going through life, make disciples. Making disciples is not an add-on, something you can do if you want to. It is not something you do if, by some chance, you think of it. It is not like baking a cake and adding in the sugar, IF you want to. Sugar is a necessary ingredient. It is necessary if you want a good tasting cake. I mean, without sugar, what’s the point? Making disciples is a necessary ingredient of the Christian life. It is a necessary ingredient of the life of the church.
As you are going through life, make disciples. As you are involved in the day in, day out activities of life, make disciples. As you go through life, that is when you are to be intent about making disciples. As you go through life, making disciples is not an option. It is the real deal. As Risen Christ goes about it’s normal activities as a church, make disciples, be intent on making disciples, make this a key ingredient of the life and ministry of this congregation. That is one of the things I want to leave you with. That is one of the things this pastor wants to say to his congregation.
Notice that Jesus didn’t say – “Go and bring people to pray a prayer accepting me as their Savior.” He didn’t say – “Go and create an institution named after me.” He didn’t say – “Go and build beautiful buildings to worship me.” He said GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. So,
- What is a Disciple?
- A disciple is someone who has faith in Jesus
That is first and foremost. It is the beginning of discipleship but it isn’t the end. John tells that “whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.” It is the spark of faith that is given to an infant at baptism. It is coming to that place where one admits they are a sinner and they need a savior. It is realizing that that savior is Jesus. It is the understanding of God’s grace for the very first time. “You mean, I don’t have to do anything to get God to love me? He just does?” It is someone who trusts in Jesus to give them eternal life. A disciple is someone who has faith in Jesus. Second,
- A disciple is someone who submits their entire life to Jesus
Jesus called the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and they left their nets and followed Jesus. They left their old way of life and made Jesus and His will their priority. They left their jobs and families and homes. More than that, they began leaving their sins behind. That’s what a disciple does. A disciple recognizes that there are things in their lives that are not the way God would want them to be. There are sins, evil inclinations, selfishness. A disciple strives to stop doing those things and to set them aside. A disciple is not someone who is sinless. They still have that Old Adam that is a part of their every waking moment. But, a disciple is in a battle, a battle against their own wills, against the world around them, against Satan himself, a battle against these evil inclinations. And, when a disciple gives in once again, a disciple returns to the cross, repents and asks for forgiveness, and, receives it in Jesus. Jesus said;
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
Again, notice what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say “You are my disciples if you know my teachings.” Or “You are my disciples if you study my teachings.” He said “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying My teachings, if you hold on to My teachings, if you submit to My teachings.” Third,
- A disciple is someone whose life is characterized by love
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
A disciple is to love other disciples. Think of the incredible impact on an unbeliever when they walk into a church and the members are just—as they said in North Carolina—they are just lovin’ on one another. And, a disciple will love the world. I am not talking about loving all the bad stuff of the world, the sins of the world, the horrible values of the world. I am talking about loving the people of the world, all of the people of the world, even those who are their enemies. That’s what God did. He loved a world, He loved us, “while we were yet sinners.” We didn’t have to get all righteous and all in order for God to love us. He loved us when we were so unrighteous. A disciple will love the people of the world even when those people are doing horrible things. Next,
- A disciple is someone who will bear fruit
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” John 15:5
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience etc. Developing the fruit of the Spirit will lead to the fruit of new disciples. That is a concern of a disciple, to bring people to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Jesus said, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations…” Now, let me ask you:
- Because it usually takes a disciple to make a disciple…
- Are you concerned about the spiritual condition of the people around you?
Maybe you have seen the bumper sticker that says, “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” Let me ask you who say you are a disciple, let me ask my congregation, do you believe that Jesus is the answer, that He is the answer to eternal life, that He is the answer to a joyful abundant life? Do you believe that? For if you do know that Jesus is the answer, will that move you to be concerned that others know the answer, too? Because it usually takes a disciple to make a disciple…
- Are you concerned about letting unbelievers see you love others?
This does not mean that you excuse bad behavior or values or ethics that are antithetical to the Christian message. But, it does mean that you love others and do the loving thing even if it means speaking a word of law to them. Because it usually takes a disciple to make a disciple…
- Are you concerned about bearing fruit?
Are you concerned about bringing people to know Jesus. Do you look over the people at your office or in your neighborhood and wish, do you pray, that they could know Jesus as their Savior. Said differently, do you see these people as the mission field God has placed before you?
- And, because it usually takes a disciple making church to make a disciple…
- Will this congregation continue to be concerned about the spiritual condition of the people God has placed before it?
Will this congregation be concerned about bringing people to faith? When people walk through the doors of this church, will you the members of Risen Christ see them as so much more than just a body in the pew--if we had pews—but will you see them as someone for whom Christ died, someone who needs to know that God loves them in Jesus.
- Will this congregation continue to submit itself to Jesus?
Will it continue to submit to God’s Word? In the article from Bob Keys, it found that liberal churches were declining at a much greater rate than conservative, Bible believing churches. Liberal churches negate the Word of God. They throw the Bible out, change it to meet their fancies. Liberal preaching is just an opinion of the person preaching which is about as good as the opinions of the people on CNN or about as good as the opinions of Congress, which are not too good. Conservative, Bible believing churches adhere to the Word of God. if the Bible says it, they believe it. They submit to God’s Word. That’s where this church it at. Will it continue to do that?
- Will this congregation seek to bear fruit?
Here, let me bring this on home for you. Win Arn, a leading church consultant conducted a survey. He asked members of nearly 1000 churches the simple question, “Why does the church exist?” Listen now, 89% said that the purpose of the church was to take care of their family’s needs, that the role of the pastor is to keep the sheep in the sheep pen happy? Jesus says that the mission of the church is to make disciples, it is to reach beyond itself and make disciples of people who are out there. They do that by going and baptizing and teaching but the mission of the church, the main thing of the church is to make disciples of all nations.
- Keeping the main thing the main thing has huge ramifications for Risen Christ
It will guide and direct this congregation. It will inform, the decisions that are made, making decisions not so much for the comfort of the people but in order to make more disciples. It will impact the spirit of the congregation as people joyfully bring others into the fold. It will be a pre-requisite of the next pastor of this place. And, it will bump up the involvement of the members of this church. During a transition such as this one, it might be easy to leave and go to another church, one that is stable, one that is not dealing with a transition. I would assert that what is needed is to step up, not step out. I would assert that the mission of Risen Christ, the mission we have talked about for 24 years, I would assert that that mission needs to go on, even during this transition, even as the new pastor comes on board, that the people of Risen Christ can continue to good work they are already doing and even bump that up a notch, that people can see that now, more than ever, they are needed to do the incredible work of making disciples for Jesus.
It is an awesome responsibility Jesus has laid on this church. But, it is the most wonderful thing to think, as I have said many times, that because of your efforts, because of the efforts of the people of Risen Christ, that when you get to heaven, someone might come up to you and say, “I am here because of you. I am here because of the ministry of Risen Christ Lutheran Church!” Keep the main thing, the main thing. That is one thing this pastor wants to say to his congregation.
In Jesus’ name.